Published on TheHill.com on January 26, 2010
Q: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None, if it really wants to change.
Any president, at any time, can choose to embody the consensus his nation has reached after it has engaged in a period of extended debate. That process, called triangulation, involves the embrace of the elements advanced by the right and by the left that Americans have found valid, and the rejection of those from which they have turned away.
When our nation encounters a new problem, we welcome vigorous debate and encourage each side to articulate its views and elaborate its solutions.
But, after a time, we have heard enough and want resolution, consensus and implementation. If Obama heeds that call, he can, indeed, turn his presidency around. But if he continues to pursue his leftist, socialist agenda and uses a feigned moderation as a guise for his radicalism, we will not be fooled again. We have been down that road with him before.
In healthcare, for example, the debate has left most of us in agreement that insurance companies need to be reined in. They should not be allowed to reject those with pre-existing conditions or to raise rates when their clients become sick. We mostly agree that lifetime caps on benefits are unfair. Since each of us could become sick and run afoul of those rules, we oppose them and ask for their reform. On the other hand, we reject the total revamping of the healthcare industry, the reduction of doctor pay, the cuts in Medicare and the mandatory insurance embedded in the ObamaCare legislation. Were Obama to embrace these solutions, he would be able to pass his bill quickly and would be hailed for it.
But will Obama do it? Will he emulate Clinton and save his presidency by moving to the center? Certainly not before he has lost his control over Congress. It was not the defeat of healthcare that impelled Clinton’s change of course, but his defeat in the elections of 1994. Even then, it took six months to turn the battleship around.
And after he loses Congress? Probably not even then. Clinton was a lifelong moderate who moved to the left when expediency dictated. Obama is a lifelong liberal who pretends to move to the center when he has to.
A committed socialist, one doubts that Obama would sacrifice his cherished transformative goals for incremental policies.
But even if Obama did, it might not save him. There is a basic difference between the circumstances that surround the Obama and Clinton administrations. Clinton faced relatively minor problems while Obama is neck deep in recession, deficit and stagnation. Clinton could reshape his presidency by positioning, posturing and passing moderate legislation. But Obama can only succeed by altering outcomes. Americans want jobs, lower unemployment, economic growth, a reduced deficit and an end to the recession. They will not be assuaged or appeased by programs or proposals. They demand results.
The skills of the spin doctor are wasted on his administration. All the photo-ops in the world and all the populist-sounding rhetoric will not do the job.
They may provide a short-term bounce — as will probably follow the State of the Union speech — but they will become undone with the next week’s jobless numbers.
Just as George W. Bush could not recapture his popularity with new programs for Iraq — voters demanded a reduction in casualties and then withdrawal — Obama cannot save his by announcing new ideas. He has to produce.
All the spin in the world will not save Obama.